learning to trust in God in real life

I lie down and sleep;
    I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.

Psalm 3

Some of us are more prone to anxiety and worry than others. I am, and my wife is not. She is just the opposite, which is nice, but also poses its challenges. There is good in being aware of dangers, and real problems, which might not be readily apparent, and trying to fix or deal with them, as best one can. But in my case, I find that a lot of my fears can be a direct challenge to faith. In other words, do I work at trusting in the Lord, or do I remain paralyzed in fear?

The psalmist was facing real dangers. They were bad things which indeed could happen. But it seems that the psalmist also came to rest in God, and God’s will, and within that, God’s protection, so that he could rest easily at night, confident that his life was in God’s hands.

For myself, I find that some good sleep can make a world of difference. I wake up refreshed, and feeling much better, what fears I had having dissipated. While the counsel we once received, to never act on our fears, or while we’re afraid, is sound advice we do well to keep, there may be some things we can do toward alleviating the problem, leaving the outcome to God.

But above all, we must trust in God, learn to trust in him. So that our hearts can be more and more at rest in him, and his promises to us. In and through Jesus.

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getting uncluttered in life

The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.

Matthew 13

When you get older you start to think about getting rid of all the things in your house or garage that you haven’t used for years and years. Paring down, before others end up having to do that for you, or after you’re gone. I think something similar applies for all of us as followers of Jesus. We need to be unencumbered, free from what can weigh us down, and essentially knock us out, or at least greatly impair and hinder our walk in Jesus.

For me more than anything else, this involves the spiritual discipline if you want to call it that, of being in the word regularly. I feel it if for a prolonged time I’m not in the word, in scripture. And being in the word is nothing scintillating or entertaining, as a rule. Actually it goes much deeper than that, right to the heart, to the very core of one’s being, and out of that forming one’s character and what one does, over time.

There are any number of things, indeed no shortage of them, which can very much distract and burden us, yes, unnecessarily. It’s not like we don’t have plenty of responsibilities in place and challenges that come our way that we can simply ignore and forget about. It’s more like how we address those issues, what we do when we’re doing so. Are we endeavoring to walk with Jesus, to be in scripture in whatever situation we’re in? Are we active in the fellowship of the church, in a Jesus community? This is all an essential part of us being those who hear the word, understand it, and find God at work in our lives for ourselves and others in and through Jesus.

a new (for me) thought on dealing with anxiety (worry)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4

As much as anything, and probably more, I’ve struggled with a low grade (sometimes high) anxiety most all of my life. If it’s the right kind minus obsessive compulsive tendencies, so as to take care of details on a job, that’s one thing. But when it amounts to thinking and acting as if life and its outcome depends on me rather than God, then that’s quite another, the latter not good at all.

I’ve had kind of inklings of this thought before, but not as plain as day like this: What if instead of first becoming anxious (or worrying; see NRSV in above link), I would immediately, as soon as something, or some thought occurs which will threaten my peace and result in anxiety, what if I would immediately bring that before God just as the passage quoted above says? After all, it doesn’t tell us not to be anxious after we have become anxious, and strictly speaking, it’s not about dealing with anxiety at all, although that’s the way I’ve used this passage in my life. It’s really about avoiding anxiety and worry in the first place.

Realistically, I say, it is hard to avoid anxiety in this life. It seems nearly like an automatic part of life for me. Of course there surely is a healthy anxiety which is different than the anxiety referred to here. That kind can comport with a faith in God, total dependency on him, and interdependency on others. But the anxiety we’re to avoid amounts to a lack of faith in God, somehow not believing God’s word, and thinking and acting as if all depends on us.

Of course we need to do exactly as this passage in Philippians 4 says. But the above link will make it clear that it’s in the context of rejoicing in the Lord always. And reading the entire book of Philippians will put it in the context of a life that is Christ, and is bent on moving toward the goal of conformity to him, and God’s calling in him. And beyond that, though the book of Philippians is definitely the place to start, we actually need the entire Bible to help us in providing needed context for not being anxious, or worrying by keeping the instructions here.

It is radical and abrupt, and surely not something we will simply step into unerringly, since we’re so used to being anxious and worrying in a way which at least weakens faith. We need to take it little by little, and learn a new way, so that over time, we can learn a new habit, and more and more avoid anxiety, yes completely in some measure in this life.

A new thought to me, one I look forward to working on in whatever days the Lord has left for me in this life.

a commitment not to worry

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4

A good number (thankfully) of years back I called in to a radio program in which a wise pastor and writer was taking phone calls and answering questions. I was sick of whatever it was I was struggling with, likely worry, and I asked whether one could simply make the commitment not to sin, and be able to follow through on that. I probably and hopefully knew better from my own reading of scripture and theology, though had been influenced in the past by a holiness group which aspired to “a second work of grace” which was supposed to “eradicate the sin nature.” I certainly considered anxiety or worry a sin, not trusting in God, having a wife who made that clear, that to worry meant that I wasn’t trusting the heavenly Father. And it was coming to a head for me, so that I wanted to get rid of an exacerbating problem, once and for all. Enough was enough.

I like to see the commands in scripture as loving directives of the Father, who doesn’t come down hard on us when we fail, and we inevitably do at times. And I know that some of us have more of a propensity toward worry than others, some suffering with anxiety attacks who might benefit much from medication and counseling. I get that. And it might be true to some extent that I fit in that category, although worry is not something I wrestle with every day, and I don’t think I’ve ever had an anxiety attack. Just the same, I am beset with worry and anxiety probably more than any other weakness. Amy Simpson, by the way wrote a most helpful book on the subject, which I would do well to reread: Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry.

We most certainly need to read the entire book of Philippians (quote above), and keep reading the entire Bible to get everything in context, so that we see the bigger picture. It’s certainly not about us and our agendas, but about God’s good will in Jesus, and the gospel, and from that living the life of love in God. But I have found a bit of a freedom in viewing, in the hard places, God’s commands as something of God’s enablings by grace and through Jesus, to help us do better. I certainly like the idea of simply deciding not to worry.

As Amy Simpson adeptly points out in her book, the emotion of anxiety is not something we can deal with; if we’re anxious, we’re anxious. Worry is our own preoccupation with one thing or another, maybe even a number of things, usually one at a time, in which we are afraid of this or that, what might happen. It actually does expose the reality that we’re failing to trust the heavenly Father, as Jesus reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount.

And so, by grace, and endeavoring to do what we’re told to do in Philippians 4:6-7 (see above), I want to once again commit myself to trusting in God’s provision and care for our needs, and that whatever happens, the Lord will be present with us, and never forsake us. And for me it seems like a good focus point is the refusal not to worry, or be anxious in the sense of worrying. Instead I will once again be endeavoring to trust in God. While not abandoning my own responsibility for this or that, which can make this tricky, since the problem isn’t necessarily out of the picutre (it can be in and out, for sure). I will be seeking through meditation on the word and prayer, to find God’s peace, and live well with it. Something I’m sure I’ll have to do again and again. While hoping I’m growing more in a maturity which makes worry less and less a problem, as I learn to trust.

 

being cheerful in the midst of adversity

To have trouble and struggle seems to be part and parcel, practically the norm of this present life. There is the day-to-day common problems which easily are seen as a nuisance, and time an escape from such. But then there are those special problems which may be legitimate or not, but can be grating, and even burdensome. We’re not meant to carry all of it ourselves, in fact more often than not, it seems that we’re to get rid of it. We are to carry our own burdens, as in responsibilities. But others are to help us with our overburdens (Galatians 6), and we’re actually to cast all of our burdens, big and small on the Lord.

Regardless of the nature of the problem, it can lend to us a humility which helps us not look down on others, getting rid of that natural bent of broken humanity. And there are times when the problem is blaring out to us so loud, that we can’t escape it, a sure sign that while it needs to be dealt with, we also ought to view it with some suspicion. I have noticed that the pressure to act immediately often proves to be either frivolous, as in not mattering, or simply a deception which we will come to regret.

To the main point of this post: I want to learn to be cheerful in the midst of the most uncheering of circumstances. Let’s say it’s a bad health report such as cancer (or even worse for me, Alzheimer’s). Or something which really hits our buttons and ordinarily leaves us in a tizzy, whatever that might be.

Let me suggest to myself, as true from scripture and appropriate to real life (and something Ann Voskamp might have just jogged me on to from her first book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are), we should work on cultivating the practice of being cheerful when our own impulse would be just the exact opposite, taking us into any number of other alternatives in which people regularly live, such as gloom and perhaps panic, etc.

This is not a denial to take seriously the problem at hand, but instead to apply faith right where we live, right in the midst of it, and see the outcome from that. Philippians 4:6-7 and for that matter the entire chapter (better yet, the entire, short book) is helpful here. We’re not to merely pretend our problem doesn’t matter, because in one way or another, it most certainly does. Instead, we’re to bring it before the Lord in prayer, our cheerfulness so to speak expressed to God in thanksgiving in the midst of what would naturally cause us anxiety, or worry, or perhaps more precisely for many of us in our weakness, in the midst of such anxiety. My way of arriving toward that place has been to remain in the word, come what may, slowly working through it in a meditative manner throughout the day. Of course if that’s to do any good, then we need to seek to apply what is written. It wouldn’t hurt for me to include some of the Philippians 4 passage here:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The most important point in this for me is that to be cheerful when down is a radical act of faith. It makes no sense in terms of the real world, and where we live. And none of us wants to be phony, or at least we shouldn’t want to be. Problems are still problems, regardless. The crisis point for us should invoke in us the decision to practice a cheerfulness as an expression of faith in God, who has it all covered in one way or another. So that even when on the inside I’m cringing and anything but cheerful, on the outside I learn to practice what by and by can become true for me even in the midst of difficulty and suffering, as God honors a faith in him and his word, in and through Jesus.

 

 

when gripped by fear

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9

Psychological descriptions and thoughts, I believe indeed can have their limitations, yet can be helpful with careful discernment under the category of “general revelation,” wisdom given from God to all of humanity. That’s simply an introduction to say, from what I hear about the term, I suppose there exists something of an obsessive compulsiveness in me. In some ways that can be good, but in other ways surely not.

My understanding of this term is something like we see a problem or potential problem, and we become obsessed with it, and then compelled to try to solve it. Good luck. There is only so much we can do to solve many of these problems, and we’re not going to run out of them, new as well as old, anytime soon. It’s just the way it is. But I’ve found that no amount of reasoning in itself sets me free from this. Although if I can find some comforting thought online, then I latch on to that. Instead what we really need is grace from God and what is prescribed in scripture. We need to think on those things and put them into pratice. Maybe practically as obvious as the nose on one’s face, but difficult, just the same.

The context of Philippians 4:6-7 is 4:4-9, and better yet, the entire book. But for the current problem, given a groundedness in Christ, the above passage quoted is sufficient.

When fear grips us we need to apply faith. The two are certainly mutually exclusive, and yet in the real world I find I can still be a person of a sincere and genuine, even if at times weak faith, yet still have fear nagging at the edges, and sometimes filling the heart and occupying the mind, and perhaps paralyzing, or at least debilitating it. We need to keep going back to first things, the basics, the passage above bringing us back to one important, helpful aspect of that.

And so we need to rejoice in the Lord, gentleness characterizing our lives, knowing the Lord is near probably both in terms of his presence by the Spirit, and also through the promise of his return. Then we’re not to be anxious, or to worry about anything. A tall order indeed. Instead we’re to pray about everything (see the New Living Translation, included in the link above). Yes, bringing our concerns to God, and giving thanks at the same time. We can surely come up with some thanksgivings which are especially appropriate given the nature of this kind of problem, or the matter of anxiety in general. Like for example, that God is faithful. That we can trust God to keep God’s word, the promises given to humankind in and through Jesus.

And then we receive the promise, the fulfillment of which will certainly be beyond us, but comes from God: that the peace of God which transcends or surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus, or as the NLT puts it, “as you live in Christ Jesus.” I’ve experienced this over and over again in my life, but to get from A to B seems particularly hard or even impossible when we’re stuck on A. That’s because we can’t do it ourselves. It’s something which God alone can do, and that in spite of our understanding, not because of it. It transcends or surpasses our understanding, which is certainly limited in itself, and of itself, not full of or even prone to faith, to having faith in God.

And then we’re to think on things which actually include the good we can find anywhere at all: “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy…” And so it’s not like we stick our heads in the sand, and forget about the problem. But rather we seek to address it with the best information we can gather. And at least just as important, with a good, overall perspective. And this not just on the problem, but good thoughts in general.

To cap it off, the way of life in Christ Jesus taught and exemplified by Paul, we’re to work at putting into practice ourselves. Paul was a pattern man, a pattern person for all of us in Christ Jesus, one whose life in Christ is an example for us all. We need to find that center in Christ, and with that, the passion it brings, and live in that. With the promise that the God of peace will be with us.

So this is an exercise in looking at this one passage which seems especially appropriate for dealing with anxiety and worry, or an obsessive compulsiveness which all too easily and too often can be given over to fear. We simply need to carry on in our life in Christ Jesus, not letting the inevitable problems of this life define us, or finally undermine, diminish, or even destroy our faith. In fact such problems can indeed be an opportunity to exercise our faith, and ultimately strengthen it, honed in the fires of the trials of this life, as we learn to push back against such with the faith given to us in Christ Jesus.

 

hard fought spirituality

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:6-8

Yes, there is rest, with the paradoxical exhortation (or command) to make every effort to enter into it (Hebrews 4:11). Talking about the Sabbath rest in Christ in whom our salvation completely lies.

But in this life we have to engage both in terms of our own faith and faithfulness coming from that, and in terms of the faith itself. Effort is required. It’s not just a matter of entering into and settling in the rest. To remain in the rest, again paradoxically, requires effort.

The Apostle Paul considered his life in Christ, amounting both to the general call for all, and the specific call he received from Christ to lead him into nothing less than a fight, “the good fight of faith,” which he instructed others to engage in, as well (1 Timothy 6:12).

It seems like the nature of things, even of God’s grace in us, that everything is gained from being hard fought. Maybe I’m missing it somehow, but in my own life I have to stay on my toes, and be ready for difficulty and trouble in terms of the world, the flesh and the devil. This seems to be the nature of things in this life.

Recently I joked at work that when I expect something to be easy, it ends up being hard, but when I expect something to be hard, it end up being easy, not so hard at all. In significant part, though not entirely, that is psychological. This is much more than that. It is important to know what we’re in for, so that we can be good for the long haul, and grow through it all.

One tricky part of this is to mistakenly get our focus on ourselves and our own effort. Instead the effort required is to get our focus off of ourselves and our effort, or whatever we might imagine commends us, and get our focus onto Jesus. We do that through being in the word and prayer, and in the fellowship and communion of the church, so as to live in an interactive relationship with God, which results in an interactive relationship with each other in Jesus.

I wish we could arrive in this life to some sort of place where we would live in a grace which carries us through the day in God’s love in Jesus, submerged and overwhelmed and living out of that love. Yes, we get some signficant tastes of that in this life, to be sure. And there are those times which seem to be a bit of the foretaste of Heaven, in which we find a rest and peace and along with that a deep settled joy, not of this world. But somehow, usually too soon that experience dissipates, or we run into the hard realities of this life.

The blessing in the troubles and trials, yes- even in our worry is that we’re pressed to get back to the basics of our faith, and to seriously practice them.

We want to become much better in all of this as time goes on, but we’re never relieved from the call to press on in battle, a spiritual battle no less, not just for ourselves, but for others. But yes, for ourselves, as well. Following Paul’s example, as he followed Christ.